BBC: New culture minister Oliver Dowden accuses corporation of bias - Sky News

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Boris Johnson's new minister for the BBC has fired the opening salvo in a Tory war with the corporation, declaring it needs a major shake-up of its output and news coverage if it is to survive.

In what amounts to an accusation of bias, Oliver Dowden - appointed digital, culture, media and sport secretary last month - claims the BBC is guilty of a "narrow urban outlook" in its programmes.

He says TV viewers are now turning to iPlayer, Netflix and YouTube and - in a damning criticism - claims that in an age of fake news public service broadcasting is now seen as less impartial than channels like Sky News. .

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden was highly critical of the BBC
Image: Culture secretary Oliver Dowden was highly critical of the BBC

Mr Dowden's attack will be seen as a government indictment that the BBC is instinctively pro-Remain and failing to reflect the views of pro-Brexit voters who backed the Tories in the December general election.

And it comes as the prime minister and his allies embark on a battle with the corporation over the future of the BBC licence fee, with top Tories demanding its replacement with a voluntary subscription system.

Formerly David Cameron's deputy chief of staff, Mr Dowden told MPs in his maiden speech in 2015 that he was "the MP for Albert Square", since EastEnders is filmed at the BBC's Elstree studios in his Hertsmere constituency.

His uncompromising warning to the corporation now comes in a major speech - his first since his appointment - to media and technology bosses in London, in which he sets three major challenges for the BBC:

  • Firstly, does the BBC truly reflect "all of the nation" and is it close to the British people?
  • Secondly, does it guard its "unique selling point of impartiality" in all its output?
  • And is it ready to embrace "proper reform" to ensure its long term sustainability for the decades ahead?

Mr Dowden's speech follows a warning from BBC presenter Jeremy Vine that the organisation is currently facing its "hardest time" in the 33 years he has worked for the corporation.

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Speaking at the Audio and Radio Industry Awards , Mr Vine said: "I'm not worried, but I think the BBC needs to justify what it does all over again because the world has changed since we started.

"We've got to do Strictly and we've got to do the Proms and we've got to keep persuading people that they should fund both and it's difficult."

Mr Dowden, addressing the Media and Telecoms 2020 & Beyond conference, said: "As a Conservative, I understand that for institutions to retain support and relevance, they have to change.

"In the coming years we will be taking a proper look at our public service broadcasting system and the BBC's central role within it.

"This will start with the consultation on whether to decriminalise TV licence evasion. Then the process for agreeing the next licence fee settlement. And then, the mid-term review of the BBC Charter.

"All of this will be in the context of a licence fee based charter that runs to 2027."

Suggesting the BBC does not reflect the whole nation, Mr Dowden said: "If we're honest, some of our biggest institutions missed, or were slow to pick up, key political and social trends in recent years.

"The BBC needs to be closer to, and understand the perspectives of, the whole of the United Kingdom and avoid providing a narrow urban outlook.

"By this, I don't just mean getting authentic and diverse voices on and off screen - although this is important.

"But also making sure there is genuine diversity of thought and experience.

"And this matters because if you don't have that, you miss what's important to people and you seem distant and disengaged."

On news, Mr Dowden said: "Recent Ofcom research shows the perception of news impartiality is currently lower for some public service broadcasting channels than commercial channels like Sky and CNN.

"Ultimately, if people don't perceive impartiality, then they won't believe what they see and read and they'll feel it is not relevant to them.

"In an age of fake news and self reinforcing algorithms, the need for genuine impartiality is greater than ever."

BBC veteran Jeremy Vine said the corporation is facing its 'hardest time' in his 33 years working there
Image: BBC veteran Jeremy Vine said the corporation is facing its 'hardest time' in his 33 years working there

On changing TV viewing habits, he said: "We know that half of all UK homes have a subscription to a major streaming service, while under 18s now spend over an hour a day on YouTube.

"My generation is no longer just turning on the TV when we get home, but is consuming different types of content through the likes of iPlayer and Netflix.

"While younger generations are favouring self-generated content on platforms like YouTube.

"When there is so much choice around, the BBC and our public service broadcasters need to focus even more strongly on relevance and representation.

"So the BBC is an institution to be cherished.

"We would be crazy to throw it away but it must reflect all of our nation, and all perspectives.

"And it must rise to the challenge of how it will ensure its sustainability as a crucial service in a rapidly changing world.

"This work is crucial as we look to our nation's future in the years ahead."


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